Tablet Opinion

‘Kinder and gentler’ GOP has gone from Texas

Whatever the opposite of “kinder and gentler” is, it’s probably a good description of what’s coming up in next year’s session of the Texas Legislature.

The depth and breadth of Tea Party candidate outright wins in Tuesday’s Republican primary and commanding vote leads heading for May runoffs almost assures it.

Coming back with a vengeance will be conservative social issues, spending restraints and efforts to shrink government that have been aired before but were pushed to the background in recent sessions.

Look at the promises from state Sen. Dan Patrick, the top vote-getter in the race for lieutenant governor. If he keeps his wide lead over incumbent David Dewhurst for the next 10 weeks and defeats Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in November, the Houston lawmaker says he will use his position as the Senate’s presiding officer to:

• Push through strong measures on border security and illegal immigration. That includes ending in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and prohibiting “sanctuary cities.”

The Legislature passed the in-state tuition measure in 2007. Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill but has endured extensive criticism for it ever since.

Tea Party leaders tried to leverage the issue in 2011. They urged Perry to “clarify his position on illegal immigration” by calling the Legislature into special session on the hot-button immigration issue of the day, “sanctuary cities” that don’t require police officers to fully enforce federal immigration laws.

While Patrick has pushed a reversal on in-state tuition and an end to sanctuary cities, Dewhurst has a kinder/gentler approach: securing the border and then considering “a limited guest worker program for the positions that citizens and legal residents have shown they do not want to fill.”

• Focus education reform on school choice, parental rights and curriculum oversight from the State Board of Education.

Patrick has long been a champion of school choice, the preferred term for a system of tax-supported vouchers to help parents send their children to private schools.

Dewhurst has said he is for “comprehensive public school reform, including school choice.” But Patrick can point out that those steps haven’t been taken during Dewhurst’s 11 years as lieutenant governor.

• Lean hard on expanding gun-owner rights. That includes “campus carry” at colleges and universities and “open carry” of handguns instead of requiring that they be concealed.

Patrick also wants to “nullify federal laws that go against our Second Amendment right to bear arms.” He doesn’t say which laws, but that’s not the key term. It’s nullify.

The word refers to what some Tea Party adherents believe is the right and obligation of state leaders to determine which federal laws they believe to be unconstitutional and refuse to enforce them.

It’s an old concept. Those who believe in it point to writings by Thomas Jefferson in 1798 and say it’s necessary to resist “federal tyranny.”

Dewhurst says he’s “committed to defending and preserving the Second Amendment from further attacks by Washington.” But he doesn’t go so far as to say he would support nullification.

The Tea Party list goes on: Cut property and business taxes. Cut wasteful government. Defend life and traditional marriage.

The terms might be broad, but Tuesday’s voting results demonstrate that the commitment is deep. And the attitude is more “take no prisoners” than “kinder and gentler.”